Gram Games: What Goes Into a Fun Game
A crucial part of game creation is to have fun!
But, just what makes a video game good? Gram Games seem to have the answer, as their releases have been among the most popular mobile games for years.
This entertainment company designs social games for mobile phones with the aim to engage players, create real bonds, and help young talents in the gaming world thrive. As they put it, they have “one goal, and one passion: to have fun, and to turn that fun into top-notch games.”
In 2012, Mehmet Ecevit, alongside his co-founders Kaan Karamanci and Alpay Koralturk, created Gram Games. Though entrepreneurship was an uphill battle at times, the small team persevered and made their dream a reality.
Follow along to see how co-founder and CEO Mehmet has led the company from a modest beginning to global success.
Mehmet’s First Steps: Rags to Riches
Mehmet Ecevit was born in 1983 in Mersin, a Turkish city on the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean. He spent his childhood and teenage years occasionally working as a shepherd so that he could pay for his education. During this time, he discovered a love for technology and trained himself in computer programming.
After finishing high school Mehmet moved to Edirne to study Mechanical Engineering, but the young man quickly realized that traditional college was not a good fit for him. He decided to pursue happiness elsewhere, so he moved to Istanbul and started looking for work.
Here, Mehmet had a rough start, and he couldn’t even find a proper place to stay for the first few months. Eventually, he found his footing while working for several post-production companies adding visual effects to videos.
However, his entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t be confined for long, and in 2008 he started his first company – Game Studio, or Oyun Studyosu. The studio’s initial video game release was Sanalika, Turkey’s first virtual world for children.
At that time, IAPs – in-app purchases – didn’t exist, so players had to go to the bank to send the studio money in order to customize characters. Mehmet would then print out receipts and send them back via snail mail.
As the interest in mobile games was on the rise, Mehmet decided it was time to shift into that market. Thus, he co-founded Gram Games together with Alpay Koralturk and Kaan Karamanci with the intention of producing first-rate mobile games.
Gram Games’ Road to Fame
Gram Games started out in 2012 as a casual games developer. In its first two years, it released three games, but none of them managed to reach a broad audience. In hindsight, the founder can easily explain why – these initial releases had complicated gameplay that required a lot of explanation until players got the hang of them.
However, even if this made for a rocky start, Gram Games’ first misses proved to be the most valuable experience for Mehmet and the entire team. Failures taught them a crucial lesson – to focus on user experience and listen to their players.
In 2014, during one of the company’s meetings, the idea for 1010! came up. The concept was inspired by Tetris, and everyone immediately loved it, deciding to invest their last $15,000 to create the game.
1010! was developed, tested, and released in a month. It was a puzzle-type mobile game with simple gameplay that turned into Gram Games’ first massive sensation.
The smash hit allowed the company to secure more investments, and in 2014 and 2015, Gram Games acquired funding of $1.2 million. This set them well on the path to success and what followed was a series of brilliant ad-only mobile games.
Hit After Hit
In 2016 Gram Games released Merged, which was #1 on the App Store and had over 1 million downloads within its first week. Their next puzzle game – Six! – was even more popular with consumers, getting 2 million downloads in a week upon release.
Mehmet and his team took advantage of the momentum and announced they were investing $5 million into new London offices, creating more jobs, and expanding their team to about 70 employees. Gram Games’ luck had turned, and they now quickly became a global player.
In June 2017, the company released yet another huge success – Merge Dragons. This was their first title from the new London studio and the company’s first IAP game.
Merge Dragons became Gram Games’ most popular title, reaching the top 100 grossing games on iOS in Germany, the UK, and the US. Although the company already had some successful releases prior to this, Merge Dragons was a total game changer.
The following year, in May 2018, Zynga announced the acquisition of Gram Games for $250 million in cash and a three-year earn-out based on the team’s achievement of profitability goals. A bit further down the line, in May 2022, Take-Two Interactive acquired Zynga for $12.7 billion and brought new management to all its game studios.
In the hit game Merge Dragons, players combine dragons to raise their level and increase power. Similarly, Gram Games now merges with other companies that combine their capabilities and achieve greater things.
Mehmet had always aimed at the global market, and in just 6 years, he turned a 5-person startup in Turkey into a worldwide multimillion-dollar business that now operates under the wing of powerful industry giants.
Better Team Culture to Better Social Games
Mehmet managed to instill a culture of creativity and respect at Gram Games by focusing on team bonding. Employees have regular staff dinners, holiday celebrations, LAN parties, and concerts.
The company regularly holds a Prototype Wednesday meeting where each employee, from finance to HR, can present their game ideas. People make their pitch, and everyone decides if it’s interesting enough to go into a fake launch. This inclusivity builds trust among employees and plays a big part in the creation process.
The team culture at Gram Games is a key component of the company’s success. This was recognized by Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau, who acknowledged the power behind Gram’s game development method.
Another one of Mehmet’s clever initiatives is the 22% Project which encourages women to join the games industry. The project provides an introduction to the skills and knowledge needed to make it in the gaming world through various activities, including short workshops on game development, design, and data analytics.
For Gram Games, the final key component of developing great games is a data-driven approach. As Mehmet realized years ago – it’s important to listen to what players have to say. Thanks to those early lessons, Gram Games now constantly utilizes user feedback and target KPIs to see what direction they should go in while developing a game.
Gram Games’ Future Aspirations
Today, Gram Games is headquartered in Istanbul and has a large studio in London. There are over 150 employees between the two, and while both factions may be miles apart, they work as one united company with a shared team culture.
Yet, Mehmet Ecevit's pursuit of a challenge is not limited to the world of mobile games. In 2020 he became the co-founder and CEO of Layer – a collaboration-first machine learning platform.
Mehmet may now focus on new exciting ventures, but he’s not likely to forget the business he built up from the start and worked on for over 8 years. He’ll always be an integral part of Gram Games and the one who laid the foundation for its new leadership team to continue down a successful path.
The company has already made a huge impact and may be on its way to reshaping the gaming world as we know it! Whatever the future holds, it’s sure to be a fun ride for Gram Games!